The Court of Claims v. Circuit Court: A Primer
When you are the victim of another person’s negligence – for example, you were hit by a car that ran a red light, or you slipped and fell in someone’s driveway – you generally know that can you sue in court for damages. Yet, what happens if the negligent party is a public official, or the government itself?
Can you sue the government? Are you able to seek the same kinds of damages if, say, you were hit by a state trooper’s car while it was speeding through an intersection, or you are a state employee yourself who is suffering discrimination at work?
The short answer is “yes,” you can bring a claim against a government entity, such as the State of Illinois. However, there are some crucial differences between suing an individual and suing a government entity. You will need to jump through a few more hoops to sue the government, and there are some rather complicated limitations on lawsuits against the government.
Accordingly, in this article, we will discuss some fundamental things that you need to know about bringing a claim against a government entity, specifically the State of Illinois. We will cover concepts such as sovereign immunity and the difference between the Illinois Court of Claims and Circuit Court.
If, after reading this article, you have questions about your own circumstances related to a claim against a government entity, call us today for a free consultation.
What About Sovereign Immunity?
You may have heard about the concept of sovereign immunity, which harkens back to the ancient rule that an ‘individual cannot sue the king.’ The concept of sovereign immunity has carried forward into modern times, and thus, you generally cannot sue the government – that is, unless the government says that you can.
Fortunately, for the residents of the State of Illinois, the State government has set up a procedure for you obtain a remedy for the injuries you suffer at the hands of a State official or State agency. The procedure, however, is different (and trickier) than a regular lawsuit in circuit court. To assert a claim against the Illinois State government and its employees, you need to bring your claim under a law known as the Illinois Court of Claims Act, and you would pursue your lawsuit in the Court of Claims, not circuit court.
What Types of Claims Can I Bring Under the Illinois Court of Claims Act?
The Court of Claims Act, which can be found in the Illinois Compiled Statutes Chapter 705, section 505, lists the types of claims that an individual or business can bring against the State of Illinois. Those types of claims include:
- All claims under State law or regulation, other than Workers’ Compensation claims;
- All contract claims against the State;
- All compensation claims for those unjustly imprisoned in State prison;
- All personal injury, i.e., “tort,” claims against the State and any of its agencies; and
- All claims under specific State compensation laws.
As you can see, there are a number of avenues through which to seek compensation for an injury caused by the government’s negligence or contract breach. That said, there are also a number of rules specific to the Court of Claims that you need to follow. Failing to follow those specific rules may result in you losing your ability to “have your day in court” at all.
How Do I Bring a Claim Against the State Under the Court of Claims Act?
Your claim against the State of Illinois would begin by filing a notice with the State Attorney General and the Clerk of the Court of Claims. In your written notice, you must include:
- The name and address of the injured party,
- The date and time of the accident,
- The location of the accident,
- A brief description of what happened in the accident, and
- The name and address of the claimant’s attending physician.
Important Deadlines in the Court of Claims.
To ensure that your case is heard, you need to follow strict time limitations. Specifically, you have two options in filing. You either need to file your claim within one year of (1) the date of injury, or (2) the date of the accident. Many times, that date will be the same. However, there are times when you will discover an injury at some point after the accident occurs.
If you file your claim within one year, then you do not need to provide a tort notice to the Court of Claims. However, all claims, even when you file notice, cannot be filed after two years from the date of the accident.
The Court of Claims provides for an important avenue for those individuals and businesses harmed by the State to bring their actions. The rules and limits detailed above are only some of the rules that apply to the Court of Claims. It is critical to follow all of the rules, as cases can be thrown out for the failure to abide by them. Especially given the difference in rules and procedure in the Court of Claims compared to a regular circuit court action, you would be wise to retain the help of a seasoned attorney who has handled cases in the Court of Claims.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Jordan Matyas – Clients benefit from Jordan’s more than two decades in government including working in the White House, the Legislature and as a regulator for the State and most recently as the Chief of Staff at the Regional Transportation Authority. Jordan is also a registered State and City lobbyist, working with clients on government relations, legislation, policy, and other aspects of public affairs.
Steve Silvey – Mr. Silvey is a former law clerk for the Chief Justice of the Illinois Court of Claims and law clerk for a Hearing Officer of the former Illinois Department of Financial Institutions where he assisted in investigations and administrative hearings. Since that time, he has concentrated his law practice on assisting businesses, risk management, insurance, commercial, property, contract and civil litigation.
Michael Haeberle – Clients contact Mike when they need a litigator. He assists businesses and individual in cases pending in court, arbitration and administrative agencies, and has tried cases before judges, juries, arbitrators, and administrative law judges, with a focus on business lawsuits, contract litigation, shareholder disputes (business divorces), and professional negligence cases.